HL Deb 06 July 1883 vol 281 cc581-5

, in rising to ask Her Majesty's Government, What steps (if any) have been taken in regard to the abolition of the punishment of flogging for minor offences in India; and to ask whether any returns on the subject will be furnished, and, if so, when? said, that it was not until last year that an assurance was given in that House which led him to believe that some activity had been shown on the part of Her Majesty's Government with the view of remedying the evils to which his Question applied. An assurance was given by the then Under Secretary of State for India that the subject was receiving the attention of the noble Marquess who at that time presided at the India Office. He was inclined to believe, from observation of the Indian journals, that the noble Marquess had acted in the matter with his accustomed energy and promptitude. Flogging in India was in itself a punishment that inflicted the deepest indignity upon the Natives, and was the cause of far more grievous suffering than corporal punishment inflicted in this country. The Returns showed that sentences of flogging were passed in India for the most trivial offences; while in this country flogging was only used to punish the most heinous offences, such as robbery with violence. He wished to bring before the attention of the country the dreadful horrors which were perpetrated under the British Government in India by the indiscriminate infliction of flogging for trivial offences. He had collected information on this subject from public journals enjoying, and rightly enjoying, the respect and confidence of the Indian public—The Englishman of Calcutta, The Madras Times, and The Bombay Gazette—and the cases which he had selected were not old ones, but had occurred as recently as 1882. For stealing eight annas, value 1s., a sentence of 30 lashes and three years' rigorous imprisonment had been inflicted. On a previous occasion he had been told that severe punishments were inflicted because the subjects were old offenders. The House should remember that they were administering British justice in India according to English law, and there was no such thing in English law as accumulative punishments. But even if there were, unless for offences of a most grave character, such a punishment as 30 lashes, administered with a cat or rattan, in addition to three years' rigorous imprisonment, ought not to be inflicted. The theft of a bottle of whiskey was punished with 20 lashes and two years' imprisonment; for stealing seven annas, value 10d., the sentence was 30 lashes and two years' imprisonment; stealing cloth, value 6s., 25 lashes and one year's imprisonment; the theft of a tiffin box, 35 lashes; stealing gold ornaments, value £15, 50 lashes and two years' imprisonment; the theft of a pocket-handkerchief, 18 strokes with a rattan; stealing a bottle of brandy, 10 lashes; stealing a pocket-handkerchief, 15 strokes and two months' imprisonment; while a boy of 12 years of age received 12 strokes for stealing a bottle of Eau de Cologne. The theft of a pair of shoes was visited with three years' imprisonment; and stealing 3d. was punished with eight months' rigorous imprisonment and one month's solitary confinement. Stealing a necklace was punished by three years' imprisonment and two months' solitary confinement; stealing 9d., three years' imprisonment, with two months' solitary confinement. To show the inequality of the punishments, he would point out that for stealing £2 10s. only two months' hard labour was given; and for stabbing, only sis weeks' imprisonment. The theft of £150 and other articles was punished with four months' imprisonment; while three years' was given for stealing 3d. He did not suppose the noble Lord the Secretary of State for India would justify these cases on the ground of cumulative punishments. What was the cause of these small offences? The cause was the most lamentable that could be conceived. It was admitted on all hands that these trivial thefts took place because 40,000,000 of the population were in a state of chronic starvation. Many of the thefts that were committed and punished with flogging were committed by the offenders for the purpose of relieving the chronic hunger from which they suffered. Labourers were only paid 4s. a week. Out of every sum of 5d. expended in the purchase of salt, 4½d. went to the Government. It was further to be remem- bered that this was in a country where £4,000,000 out of the £60,000,000 of Revenue was paid as pensions and deferred pay to persons not resident in the country. These circumstances explained how it was that the working people were sometimes driven to commit theft. Hunger was the cause of their misconduct; and that being so, the British Government deserved severe censure for having permitted the practice of flogging to extend to such proportions as it had readied in late years. In a recent year there were 17,032 cases of corporal punishment for offences committed in gaols. That was an enormous number; and what made the matter worse was that the flogging in those cases was ordered to be inflicted by the prison officers, without the intervention of any magistrate. He trusted that the Secretary of State for India would give the House an assurance that the punishment of flogging would, in the future, be much less frequently resorted to, if not abolished altogether.


said, it was quite understood in that House that when a noble Lord had given Notice that he would call attention to one subject he was allowed to speak on all other subjects, however remote their relevancy might be. But his noble Friend behind him had extended their Lordships' privilege very greatly on that occasion, for he had referred, not only to the subject of flogging in India, but to questions that had very little connection with the subject matter of his Question—such questions as the condition of the population of India, the food supply of that country, and its taxation, not one of which subjects could be discussed adequately in less than a whole Sitting. If his noble Friend wished to have them discussed, perhaps he would be good enough to give Notice of his intention. Passing by the figures of his noble Friend, which were not all of them accurate, he said that he feared that the noble Lord could not have read the Papers presented to the House last August on the subject of flogging, because in those Papers, although he did not say that they would remove all the censure which the noble Lord had passed upon the Government of India, there was very full information upon the whole question; a statement of the inquiry made by the Indian Government on the subject; the answers of the Local Government; the view taken by the Indian Government; and the despatch of Lord Hartington stating his views upon the whole question. In order to understand the present position of the matter it was absolutely essential that those Papers should be referred to, and his natural answer to the noble Lord, therefore, would be—" Read those Papers." He was not prepared to deny that the great amount of flogging which had been inflicted in India for minor offences was a subject deserving of attention, and that it was most desirable to diminish the number of such punishments. His noble Friend would find, if he would look at the Papers, that the Government of India quite recognized those considerations; but the replies received from the local Governments disclosed practically an unanimity of opinion as to the propriety and necessity of retaining whipping as a form of punishment. The inhabitants of India had always been familiar with that form of punishment, and in the opinion of the Indian Government the advances made by the people in civilization were not yet such as would justify the Government in abolishing flogging. It was for reasons connected with the question of caste, a less severe punishment than imprisonment, and it relieved the gaols. It was also preferable to imprisonment in that it left the bread-winner, supposing him to be the offender, with his family. The Indian Government, however, thought that magistrates of the second class should alone have authority to order a prisoner to be whipped, and suggested other limitations to the punishment. the Governor General added that indiscriminate flogging should be checked, especially in times of distress. Lord Hartington approved generally the views taken by the Governor General; but he added that he desired that the Viceroy in Council should take into consideration the question of a further reduction in the class of offences to be punished by flogging. That was the last despatch on the subject. He had no doubt that Lord Ripon's Government would consider whether a diminution could not be effected in the number of offences for which whipping was inflicted; but while it would be necessary to preserve in India a punishment which would not be necessary in this country, where the ways of life and the habits of the people were very different, at the same time he strongly felt, as everyone must feel who considered the subject, that every effort should be made to diminish the number of floggings. There was one piece of information which would be satisfactory to his noble Friend, and that was the number of corporal punishments for gaol offences had been largely diminished. While in 1880 the number was 17,057, in 1881 it was 8,921, or a reduction of 47 per cent. Further and more complete Returns would be shortly received. The ordinary Returns had been received already, but not those for which Lord Hartington called, distinguishing the kinds of offences and the nature of the punishment. When his noble Friend saw those Returns he would be better able to judge how far an advance had been made towards the object he had in view.


said, that he had been in communication with a medical man who had been 10 years in India, and who told him that after seven or eight lashes of the rattan, he had seen the flesh fly from a man's back, and that he had witnessed scenes really disgusting and horrible. It was partly owing to his representations, and the terrible nature of the punishment, that he had brought the matter before their Lordships. He had no doubt that Her Majesty's Government would do their best to reduce the punishments; but he hoped they should be able to see their way to substituting some other punishment for that of flogging.