HL Deb 11 July 1856 vol 143 cc619-25

presented a petition, to which he was desirous of calling their Lordships' attention, from Pertaub Singh and Bisheu Singh, British subjects, Soodees of Thubkurrah, Pergunnah, Deeuanuggur, Zillah Goordaspoor, in the province of Lahore, commonly called the Punjaub, in the East Indies, complaining of the grievances they are suffering from the East India Company's Government, and praying for relief. He had thought it right to undertake the presentation of this petition, because it seemed to him expedient that the Natives of India should thoroughly understand that they were as much Her Majesty's subjects, and that recourse to Parliament was as open to them as to any of Her Majesty's subjects born in the United Kingdom. He was the more disposed to present the petition inasmuch as it complained of a very great grievance, for which these gentlemen had no remedy whatever in India; and he felt that it was only by giving publicity to the grievance they had suffered, by presenting their petition to Parliament, that it was possible for them to obtain redress. Although these gentlemen were not able to transport themselves hither, to take a house in London, and go about in their carriage and leave their cards with Members of both Houses of Parliament previous to the presentation of a petition or the discussion of a measure in which they were concerned, he nevertheless felt confident that their Lordships would not on that account give a less favourable hearing to their statement and their prayer. The petitioners were the lineal descendants of a great religious leader and teacher of the Sikhs who lived 280 years ago, and whose name was Oomra Ran Doss. He was a person of great influence, and his family had from that time to this maintained themselves in the position of gentlemen; respected by all, and retaining their possessions throughout all the changes and civil convulsions that had occurred in the interval. A portion of their property these gentlemen derived from grants made to them by the ancient princes and chiefs of the Punjaub; and they stated that the grants by which they held that property existed in the archives of the Lahore Government, and had been verified by the officers of the Indian Government, and certified as perfectly correct; so that there could be no doubt whatever as to their being the rightful possessors of the property. They said that they had never acted against the Government of India, but had, on the contrary, assisted them as far as they were able. They stated, also, that upon the conquest of the Punjaub the Board of Administration recommended that one-fourth of this property should be appropriated by the Government, and that, knowing the necessity for the Government having resources to enable them to maintain order in the country, they did not object to the sacrifice of the one-fourth demanded of them. The Board of Administration further proposed that the remaining three-fourths should remain to these gentlemen during their lives, and that after their decease a portion, amounting to about one-third of what they originally possessed, should be perpetually secured to their heirs and successors. On the 6th of May, 1853, the Supreme Government of India confirmed the decision of the Board of Administration as to taking away the one-fourth, and leaving to them for their natural lives the remaining three-fourths; but they rejected altogether the proposition of the Board that the descendants of the petitioners should retain the one-third. Now this, the petitioners represented, was not a general rule that had been enforced systematically throughout the province; on the contrary, in their own district, and in the immediate neighbourhood there were many cases of persons whose positions were exactly similar to theirs, and who not only had a portion of their property secured to them during their own lives, but a portion also secured to their descendants and successors after them. The Deputy Commissioner of the district reported that the petitioners were very respectable men, and that they bore a high character among both Europeans and Natives, and that they held the position of country gentlemen. Mr. Raikes stated that Pertaub Singh was a very respectable gentleman, whom he commended to the protection of the East Indian Government on his visit to Calcutta; and Colonel Lake also bore testimony to the character of these gentlemen. But the petitioners stated that by the decision at which the Indian Government had arrived, they were at this moment living in the melancholy position of knowing, that if that decision were carried out they would leave their descendants without an inheritance. He (the Earl of Ellenborough) had moved for and obtained papers, which showed what was the principle upon which the Indian Government had acted towards the Sikhs, and he found that that principle was one upon which they were justified in acting, though he held that it was not applicable to the case of these gentlemen, who had never borne part in opposing or resisting the Indian Government, but had always given that Government all the assistance that was in their power. Whilst, however, the Government might be justified in acting as they had done in the case of the Punjaub, as a conquered country, he disputed the wisdom of treating the Sikhs differently from the other conquered provinces of India. Take Scinde as an example. So satisfactory was the system pursued there, that from the day the chiefs swore allegiance to the Indian Government not a hand had been raised against our authority, and he was assured by Mr. Frere that the armed police were amply sufficient for maintaining the internal tranquillity of that country, and that if troops were maintained there, it was not for the purpose of securing internal quiet, but to protect the frontier, and guard against the inroads of hostile neighbouring powers. How different from the position of the Punjaub, where Government were obliged to maintain an army of 50,000 men, in addition to 18,000 or 20,000 armed police! It was to him a subject of the most serious consideration, and always had been—what would be the ultimate result of the policy which we had been pursuing now for many years, not intentionally, in various provinces of India. For there could be no doubt that our severe fiscal administration had, against our desire, had the effect of so changing the distribution of property there, as to produce a state of society of which there were few instances in the history of the world—he meant a state of society without any or very rare gradations of rank—a nation without a gentry. It was the first time, he believed, in the history of the world that any such state of society had existed. There was, or would soon be, in India, no link between the foreign sovereign and the native labourer; and it was a reflection upon the recent Government of India that it had endeavoured to introduce into the Punjaub a system the effect of which was to annihilate the ancient possessors of the soil, to substitute none for them, and to have none whatever between the Government and the field labourer. In adopting a policy like this, did they suppose that they had created a state of society upon which it was possible for education to act for the moral improvement of the people? Did they suppose that they could improve by education a suffering body of proprietors, or raise a population which was reduced to that low level of distress and misery? And let them imagine what might be the consequences if, in some future time, circumstances led to a general insurrection in the Punjaub. What hope would there be for the Government? What help for the people? He had heard Gentlemen express hopes, that by improving the country we might render it capable at some distant period of governing itself; but how could they ever hope to attain such a result as that, if they established and persisted in a system which conduced to a state of society where there were no gradations of rank, and none between the foreign governor and the labouring classes? This question had always pressed much upon his mind; and the present was not the first time that he had thought it necessary to mention his feelings to their Lordships. He hoped it was a matter that would attract the attention of those who were connected with the Government of India. With regard to the particular case of the petitioners, he must say that he really thought it was impossible that the Government could have deliberately arrived at the conclusion to which they had come respecting it—he could not help hoping that among a mass of cases this one had been decided hastily. He trusted that the Government in this country would recommend the question to the consideration of the Government in India, and, relying as he did upon the truth of all the statements contained in the petition, that the decision of the Government in India would be such as to relieve the character of our Administration from the injury it must sustain if such injustice were continued.


agreed with the noble Earl in his desire that the Natives of India should be encouraged in the feeling that in any claim for justice there was a Court of Appeal in the Parliament of this country, and he trusted that every native so appealing would find an advocate as able and judicious as the noble Earl. But there was this disadvantage, that it was impossible that the Government could have full information of the details in every individual case which might be suddenly brought under the notice of Parliament. He would, as far as he had been able to acquire information with regard to them, mention the circumstances under which the decision was come to in the present case by the Governor General of India. The noble Earl had referred to the general principles laid down by the Governor General with reference to the government of the Punjaub; and in the line of argument he took seemed to convey an impression that the Governor General had made a great distinction between the mode in which the government of the Punjaub was carried on, and that in which the rest of the country was governed. But no such distinction had been laid down by the Government of India as between those provinces and other parts of the country, He (the Duke of Argyll) never looked into the history of India without feeling some doubt as to the right by which we had taken possession of parts of that empire; and those doubts he had entertained, especially as regarded Scinde. But if ever there was a province acquired in a legitimate mode, it was the Punjaub. In a time of profound peace our territories of India had been attacked by the Sikh Rajah, and every one must well remember the alarm which was felt in this country at the temporary successess which followed the first invasion of our territory. After a struggle, renewed more than once, we had succeeded in conquering the Punjaub. He did not mean to say that we were therefore justified in treating the Natives with injustice; but if there was any province which we should be justified in treating as a conquered province, it was the Punjaub. The instructions of the Governor General to the Board of Administration in the Punjaub, laid down a general principle for the assessment of the land for the purposes of the Government. He should state that the property in question was not land, or revenue derivable from land, but grants of remission from taxation on land. The Governor General having laid down in his instruction the general principle, went on to detail the different classes of cases with which the Board of Administration would have to deal; and the case which the noble Earl had brought forward came under the fifth head of the instruction—namely, "that all persons holding lands subject to pay fines should hold them for their lives, subject to the payment of one-fourth to the revenue, and that on the death of the holder the property would be resumed by the Government." The general principle was, that the grants were respected as regarded the existing holders; but should not be continued to future holders, except those which had been given for certain religious purposes. It was under these general rules that this case stood. It might be said that the grants in question came under the head of a religious and charitable character; but the claim having been brought under the consideration of the Government of India, it was decided, after full inquiry, that they were not of a charitable or religious character, or such as, being for the support of religious or public buildings, would, under the rules, be entitled to be continued in perpetuity. He would ask the House to consider the serious nature of the question involved in this claim. If the claim were conceded in this case it must be conceded in all others of a similar nature, and that would involve the sacrifice of one-fifth of the whole revenue of the province, the abstraction of which would necessarily throw the whole fiscal system into confusion, and render it difficult, if not impossible, to carry on the government. He was not in possession of any very full information of the grounds which had led the Supreme Government of India to decide that this was not one of the exceptional cases contemplated in the general rules; but he would submit the petition to his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Control, and if his right hon. Friend saw sufficient grounds, he was sure that neither the India Government, nor the Court of Directors, would refuse to reconsider the decision to which they had come. They must not, however, lose sight of the difficulties of the case, nor forget a favourable decision in this case might involve a similar decision in 5,000 or 6,000 others.


said, that the noble Duke should recollect that in these particular cases the Commissioners had recommended that the descendants of the grantee should have one-third of the whole grant in perpetuity.


hoped that inquiry would be made into the whole system of Indian government. It was absurd to talk of the people of India having an appeal to Parliament if their petitions were allowed to remain unnoticed upon the tables and their demands for justice defeated by technicalities. The noble Duke had pleaded a strange plea when he said that the question of the resumption of grants must not be touched at all, and that if all grants were to be maintained they would swallow up the whole revenues of the country, and render government impossible. There might be truth in that plea, but there was no justice—no matter how just was the title to a grant, the exigencies of the State were such that it must be ignored. That was a principle that must be well considered before the Parliament of England could adopt it. Up to 1805, no question of resuming these grants had ever arisen, but soon after that period an opinion was put forth by men, wise and able, no doubt, to the effect that the circumstances of all grants should be inquired into. That proposition was disputed, and a controversy arose upon it. In 1828 an inquiry was instituted, not in the fairest manner. In one case which came before the Privy Council upon appeal the first Commissioner who had been; appointed had decided that the grant could not be resumed. The East India Company were not satisfied, and appointed another; Commissioner, who decided in their favour. A third Commissioner was appointed, who agreed with the first; but that first Commissioner, in the mean time, had changed his opinion and adopted the views of the second Commissioner. A fourth Commissioner was appointed, and the Indian Government having got two Commissioners to decide in their favour seized the land in dispute and annulled the grant. He begged their Lordships to consider the importance of the subject, and whether it was not necessary, for the maintenance of the good name of this country, to inquire into the justice of complaints such as those put forth in the petition which the noble Earl had presented.

Petition ordered to lie on the table.

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